Pulse check programme helps prevent strokes

More than 1,000 people across the North East and North Cumbria have been identified as having a potentially serious heart condition and 59 strokes have been prevented thanks to an opportunistic pulse check programme rolled out across the region.

The Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC) has led the roll out of a pulse check device – called AliveCor – within a range of healthcare settings across the region to help identify people with undiagnosed atrial fibrillation (AF).

To mark World Stroke Day [29 October 2019], the AHSN NENC is raising awareness of the work being done across our region around AF – a condition which causes an irregular or abnormally fast heart rate and is a major risk factor for stroke. Recognising and receiving proper treatment for the condition, which often shows no symptoms, is important because strokes due to AF tend to be more severe.

In the North East and North Cumbria, it is estimated that 17,080 people are living with undiagnosed AF and are at a higher risk of stroke[1].

AF-related strokes are preventable and patient’s lives can be saved if they are well managed on blood-thinning medication to prevent clots. AliveCor can detect people with an irregular pulse which could indicate undiagnosed AF. Patients are usually then offered an ECG to confirm or refute a diagnosis, so they can be identified and treated for their condition.

Since the start of 2018 through to March 2019, a total of 20,735 people in the region have had an opportunistic pulse check using AliveCor. This has resulted in 1,175 people being identified with possible AF, potentially preventing around 59 strokes.

In the North East and North Cumbria, this represents an estimated cost saving to the NHS of £1.3m over one year or £2.6m over five years.[2]

The AHSN NENC has distributed a total of 374 AliveCor devices across the region and has provided training to 855 healthcare professionals. These devices are now being used by GPs, practice nurses, healthcare assistants, GP receptionists, community pharmacists, specialist nurses, podiatrists, Fire and Rescue Service workers and third sector organisations.

AliveCor is a handheld device comprising of two small pads which, when pressed by the patient, takes a 30 second reading. The device is simple and quick to use and sends data directly to a smartphone or tablet app.

Professor Julia Newton, Medical Director at the AHSN NENC, said:

“Although atrial fibrillation isn’t itself usually life-threatening, strokes related to AF can be very severe, in some cases leading to long-term disability or even death. But they are preventable if patients are identified and treated appropriately. We’re extremely proud of the work we have undertaken to implement the AliveCor device across the region to enable these potentially life-saving opportunistic pulse checks to be carried out.

“The AHSN NENC has worked closely with healthcare professionals to ensure efficient and consistent use of AliveCor through in-depth training and regular communication.

“The response we have received from both professionals and patients has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s thanks to the passion and dedication of staff within these healthcare settings that more than 20,000 people across our region have been able to receive these pulse checks.”

Mary Walsh, from Stockton on Tees, is one patient in the region who has already seen the benefits of the new technology.

The 72-year-old had not been feeling well for a number of months. She was short of breath, tired and suffering from regular dizzy spells.

She said:

“I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt unwell so I booked an appointment at my GP surgery. The nurse and GP checked my pulse, which was over 50, and the doctor recommended I go for an ECG and we also discussed blood thinning medication.”

“The GP then produced this small device which was linked to his phone. I had to put my fingers on a small sensor pad and it then produced a reading on the doctor’s phone – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

The AliveCor device provided confirmation that Mary had abnormal activity, which was later confirmed by the ECG as atrial fibrillation.

She added: “Before I went to the doctor, I had been feeling unwell for some time and it was having a significant impact on my life. I struggled to remain as active as I used to be, which was especially upsetting when it came to playing with my grandchild.

“Thankfully, AliveCor helped give me my life back. The device really is amazing and I’m certain it will help save people’s lives. It is so simple and straightforward, and it gave the result in seconds.”

Mary’s GP at Riverside Medical in Stockton-on-Tees, Dr Yusuf Soni, said: “We have been using AliveCor for screening patients who attend an appointment for their chronic disease review. We have diagnosed 13 new patients who were previously without any symptoms. Our patients love it and our staff love it. It is absolutely brilliant!”

Dr Nicholas Hargreaves, a GP at Burn Brae Medical Group, Hexham, Northumberland, said: “AliveCor has not only improved efficiency in the way we work but, more importantly, it has brought significant benefits to those patients who have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and are now receiving the appropriate treatment. It is compact, quick and easy to use by both GPs and practice nurses and our patients have found the pulse check process simple and straightforward.”

Dr Raj Bethapudi, GP Partner, Trainer and Appraiser at Galleries Medical Practice in Washington, and Executive GP, Sunderland CCG, said: “Alivecor is a very useful tool that helps to pick up AF during routine GP consultations if you clinically suspect an irregular pulse. It is easy to use, portable and particularly helpful in settings like home visits or when nursing clinics are extremely busy. It saves time for the clinician and patient and is reliable.”

Newcastle United Foundation’s Health and Wellbeing Team has successfully implemented the use of the technology as part of its NHS Health Check service in which the team carry out health screening across the region, helping people live happier and healthier lives.

Sam Cooper, Health and Wellbeing Project Officer at Newcastle United Foundation, said: “We have successfully screened and referred a number of individuals with undiagnosed cardiopulmonary issues, the implications of early diagnosis and treatment for these people could be lifesaving.”

The AliveCor roll out is part of NHS England’s NHS Innovation Accelerator, which is delivered in partnership with England’s 15 AHSNs.

The aim of the programme is to identify those people who are potentially at risk of AF by offering opportunistic pulse checks across a range of healthcare settings.